Friday, April 30, 2010

Almanac Singers: Talking Union


PETE SEEGER, vocal/banjo; LEE HAYS, vocal;
MILLARD LAMPELL, vocal; JOSH WHITE, guitar/vocal; SAM GARY, CAROL WHITE, BESS LOMAX HAWES, vocal


My father was a union man, and -- boy! --did he ever talk union at the dinner table! In my childhood home, I swear the order of allegiance was FDR first, then God, then the Pope. Everything else followed logically from that. So I have a natural and abiding affection for -- and commitment to -- the political content of these songs.

That aside, though, they are a delightful bit of American labor history, as well as an early manifestation of what would be the folk revival of the mid twentieth century. Shortly after these recordings were made, Woodie Guthrie joined the group, which eventually became The Weavers. The invincible Pete Seeger is still with us, and still agitating for his beliefs through song.

There is a surfeit of material on May Day in all its many guises, so I will simply leave this small, musical offering of one of them. And, of course, I wish you a Happy May Day -- whether of May baskets (which I delivered to my friends as a small child), of Marian devotions, or, as here, in honor of the laboring, anonymous masses who have given so much, often for so little.

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The music files are directly from the 78s, with no filters run. There's more noise, but more presence, too, and somehow a sense of "being there." Or maybe I imagine it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Where Have I Been?

After making regular posts for months, I have been absent these last weeks, so I wanted my friends who have visited, left comments, and otherwise supported my efforts on the blog to know that I hope to pick up a more regular pace soon.

The current absence began with my car unexpectedly giving up the ghost, requiring the purchase of a new automobile. I assume I'm not alone in feeling like I've just jumped off a cliff when I buy a new car -- on time, bien sûr!; I'm very American that way. I've also increased my work hours, a good thing, given my automotive needs, and I'm experiencing unusually debilitating Spring allergies that leave me with almost no energy for personal projects after work. Also, my elderly mother was hospitalized recently, as a result, it turns out, of a misprescribed medication. But it caused some anxious days.

In terms of things musical: The new car has a very nice sound system for its class, with satellite radio. I'm listening to a lot of blues and jazz while driving. And I have a stack of LPs I want to get to work on.

Finally, I'd like to acknowledge the brilliant musical career of Arthur Winograd, who passed away last Thursday, April 22, at the age of 90. Tonight I plan to listen to the first Julliard recording of some of the Bartok quartets, in which Winograd was cellist, as a kind of "in memoriam" to this fine musician.

My next post will contain music.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Alfred Gallodoro & The Stuyvesant Qt. play Brahms Quintet


Alfred Gallodoro, when he was playing with the NBC orchestra or in other classical venues, and "Al" when he was playing jazz, including alto sax for Paul Whitman, was a clarinetist of considerable refinement and tonal beauty. I am posting this record (an LP issue of a 78 set recorded in 1947/48) despite its sad condition, because the performance it contains is notably lovely, and for the historical importance of its players.

The inner grooves of the first side of the LP, comprising the last minutes of the beautiful and delicate second movement, look like they were played by a roofing nail, and my heart sank when I saw this damage to an LP in otherwise well used but OK condition. A conical stylus, tracking at a higher weight, though still by no means heavy (2.5gm) picked up less distortion than the fine line or elliptical stylus, so that is was I recorded it with. The last minute and a half of the second movement is the worst of it, but with some careful treatment of that section I was able to minimize the obvious effect of the abuse. There is some distortion, but it does not jump out and overwhelm the music, as it did on the first play I made of this disc.

The performance is well worth putting up with this small area of ameliorated sonic imperfection, though I urge anyone who might have a better copy of this recording to post it, or send me a sound file from it to post --with due acknowledgement, of course.

Oh! And the record is red vinyl. I can't help it; as many as I have seen, that still tickles me -- not red exactly, but pink.

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Mitropoulos/ NYPO and Reiner/Pittsburgh Shostakovich Symphonies


These two recordings, to the best of my knowledge, are not currently available on CD. The Reiner Masterworks Heritage CD containing this recording is listed on Amazon for absurdly high prices, indicating it is not longer in the catalog. It is a brilliant remastering and I would strongly recommend getting the CD if you can find it at a reasonable price. Though I own it, I have used my well used, thrift store LP for the renovation, in line with my stated intent not to post other's digital work. It cleaned up rather well.

The Mitropoulos recording of the Fifth Symphony, with the "Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra of New York", was the first performance of the first Shostakovich piece I ever heard, when I checked the record out of the Thayer Public Library in Braintree, Massachusetts as a sophomore or junior in high school. (Many thanks to that library for its small but sterling collection of classical records which introduced me also to the Oistrakh/Mitropoulos recording of the Violin Concerto of the same composer and so many other great recordings.) After all these years, it is still my favorite performance on record, despite the less than brilliant sonic properties of the Columbia LP, which I have tried to improve as much as I felt was prudent.

Unfortunately, Mitropoulos, one of the very greatest musicians of the last century, more often than not suffered from poor or, at best, mediocre recording. The recording of the 6th symphony with Reiner predates by several years that of the 5th by Mitropoulos, and was issued originally on 78s; it is nonetheless superior sonically.

Both of these records contain performances of reference of the works in question, and it has been a pleasure and privilege to restore them for this post.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Second Vienna School by Ormandy

Here is the recording of Ormandy conducting work of the second Vienna School that I promised would be the follow-up to the tribute on the 25th anniversary of his death. The two Webern works on this record were discovered only in the 1960s and received their first performances by Ormandy and his orchestra. Rather than unnecessarily re-write a lot of text, I have photographed the back of the album, which has the pertinent information. I would only add that the Sommerwind is more Post-romantic than what we normally expect from Webern and the the 3 pieces are performed with a delicacy that does justice to a composer whose music is more apt to be thought of in terms of harmonic violence rather than the astonishing refinement of its polyphony.

The Lulu Suite presented here sounds to me less repulsed by Lulu's amorality than saddened by the destruction of her humanity. A kind of Lulu as tragic heroine, if you like. And if you don't --well -- I won't insist on it!

The Schoenberg Theme and Variations, first conceived as a piece for band, gives us a triumphantly tonal work late in Schoenberg's career. Whatever dodecophonic ideologues may have said during the musical culture wars of the middle and late twentieth century, the head honcho of the whole movement stated unequivocally that there was still plenty of good music to be written in C major. Though without Schoenberg's authority, I would still add that there is undoubtedly still plenty of good music to be written using serial techniques and charts of tone rows.

Enjoy!

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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Eugene Ormandy : A Tribute 25 Years On

November 18, 1899 - March 12, 1985

March 12, 2010 was the 25th anniversary of the death of Eugene Ormandy. It was also the 94th birthday of my beloved mother, still active and alert in a suburb of Boston, so I may be forgiven for forgetting Dr. Ormandy until now.

Still, having just remembered the missed milestone -- we measure such things in chunks of 10 and 25 years, it seems -- I did not want to let further time pass without some words about a musician much maligned, whose recordings are nonetheless, everywhere, because they sold so well, on CD no less than on records, and who was really a very fine musician, despite the familiarity that bred so much contempt for him.

There is no lack of authority upon whom to base a sour view of the great Philadelphian: Stravinsky and Klemperer both ranked him first among second rate conductors, but both, too, were infamously uncharitable toward other musicians; Stravinsky also dismissed Koussevitzsky, Ansermet, and Furtwangler, while Klemperer bad-mouthed Istvan Kertesz and Josef Krips, among others.

I am certainly not going to argue with other people's taste; there are musical people who do not like Ormandy for reasons that have nothing to do with popular, elite pressure or the opinions of others in any way. His method of attack could seem weak to those who naturally admired Toscanini. Since I never took to Toscanini's ways, finding him often musically brutal, whatever his technical prowess may have been, that was never an issue with me. Still, Ormandy's less taut approach to music making at times, and his sometimes seemingly casual phrasing, can disturb many. I was among them once, but my opinions of the conductor have changed to allow that he did estimable work in more than the composers I will mention next, for whom I believe he had a special affinity.

If I still enjoy and want to hear tighter, tauter, more sinewy renditions of Sibelius, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, and Shostakovitch, I nonetheless find Ormandy's way with these composers unsurpassed. If his work in the 1st Vienna School has been cause for some of the least kind remarks about him, he still did a very great recording of the Schubert 4th and 6th symphonies that ranks with the very best performances on record -- that of Beecham, a true hero of mine, among them. And his recording of the Second Vienna School, the musical offering that will posted subsequent to this tribute, demonstrates both that he was a musician of secure technical means, and that twelve tone music can be breathtakingly beautiful. That he maintained the Philadelphia Orchestra in peak form for almost 50 years cannot be attributed to the never ending legacy of Stokowski. As his work in Minnesota demonstrates, Ormandy held his own credentials as an orchestra builder; that he chose to keep the "Philadelphia Sound" created by his predecessor largely intact, is no shame to him, despite Ricardo Muti's sneering comments about it. It was a sound well worth preserving. Would that Seijii Ozawa had been as careful with the French heritage of the BSO.

He approached modern and new music fearlessly, in a spirit of service and collegiality, and probably did more for contemporary composers than any other leader of a major American orchestra in his time. Think of musicians associated with him, for many of whom he did first performances and/or first recordings: Persichetti, Lutoslawski, William Schumann, Shostakovitch, Samuel Barber, Roger Sessions, Rachmaninoff, Walter Piston, Prokofiev, Ned Rorem. And the list goes on. Concerto recordings he made with Serkin, Szigeti, and a host of others remain in the catalog not just for the soloists, but for the impeccably musical accompaniment Ormandy gave them. His recording of Three Places in New England is gorgeous, and I recommend without hesitation any of his Ives performances.

Ormandy did not have Toscanini's oversized ego, Reiner's ruthless and even cruel podium manner, the beautiful weight of Klemperer's phrasing late in his career, the sexy buoyancy and rythmic verve of Leonard Bernstein. It is significant, though, that Ormandy anecdotes do not abound; his records sold for their musical virtues not the cult status of the conductor. In fact he is sometimes faulted for not imprinting his personality on the music, for not asserting an Ormandy style. It's an absurd criticism. Ormandy never meant to express HIS personality through the score. He meant, to the best of his ability, to elicit the musical intent of the composer, or, failing that, to produce a compelling and musically intelligent rendering of the score. More often than not, he succeeded.

Hindemith: String Trios No. 1, Op. 34 and No. 2 (1933)


These are gorgeous pieces of music, and the performances, by a trio of players, each individually accomplished, who played and recorded a good deal together, are eloquent demonstration to the musicians' talents in chamber music. The record is a very beat up thrift store find, which I think you will find cleaned up very nicely in DartPro 24 (No, I don't own stock in the company; I just like the software and think it should be known as an alternative to some of the big brand name programs). Some barely perceptible noise here and there was still left after the filters run on the entire file, and they could have been addressed individually. They are so slight I did not think it was worth the effort, so left them. Those raised and addicted to DDD recordings are hereby forewarned. I have, however, posted the unprocessed wav files, resampled down to 44.1khz and encoded in lossless FLAC, for anyone who wants to take a crack a them.

I do not know Jean Pougnet other than by his work with the musicians presented here, but he was a highly respected British (yes British!) musician whose late career was marked by tragedy. Anthony Pini we have met previously on this blog, playing the cello part of the Brahms clarinet trio with Louis Kentner and Reginald Kell. He made a famous and still quite worthy recording of the Elgar Cello Concerto with Van Beinum, whose work I like a lot, and who will inevitably make an appearance on Vinyl Fatigue. Frederick Riddle made a terrific recording of Harold in Italy with Hermann Sherchen. If that record lacks an overall French sensibility, that is probably Scherchen's doing. I'm very fond of it, regardless, and Riddle is beyond reproach.

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Saturday, April 3, 2010

Walter Trampler Plays Hindemith and Reger


Included in this post is most of the music from two LPs Trampler made for RCA Red Seal. I had assumed they would be available on CD and was surprised to discover they are not. Of the two LPs only the 5'43" Stravinksy Elégie on the Solo Viola disc would not fit on an 80 minute CD, so I have saved it for a subsequent post.

There are two sonatas for Viola and Piano of Hindemith (RCA Red Seal LSC-3012) that Trampler recorded with Ronald Turini, an artist with whom I am otherwise unfamiliar. The F major sonata (dated 1922, though written during the war) Op. 11, No. 4 is a delightful, chromatic, post-romantic composition, expansive in its expression, even if not unduly emotional. The Sonata 1939 is more firmly planted in the new century and shares the emotional austerity of so much art in the years between the world wars and subsequently. It is, nonetheless, despite its lack of key signature and free chromaticism, a work that does not wander too far from suggestions of a tonal center, however changeable.

The Hindemith Solo viola Sonata Op 25, No. 1 and the two Reger Suites for solo viola all seem to bow deeply before the solo violin partitas and sonatas and the solo cello suites of J.S. Bach. The Reger compositions are virtually an homage to Bach's suites, which will surprise no one familiar with the later composer's Bach Variations for piano (played stunningly in an easy to get recording by Rudolph Serkin). The Hindemith sonata is, perhaps, not so obviously indebted to Bach, but it is hard to imagine this music without the model of the earlier master. Indeed, the sense of musical continuity one experiences listening to this record is profoundly satisfying.

(A brief, personal aside: My inability to concentrate and to think coherently recently, due to fatigue induced by Spring allergies, has kept me from posting this for several days. So, for the moment, while I do hope I have not embarrassed myself too much by making stupid mistakes, I want to get Trampler's performances of these works up. I think they are superb. )

The text file included in the files linked below included the track listing and other pertinent information. Downloading it is recommended.

4/10 @ 3:57 Mountain Time : Back CD insert posted

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